In the book of 2 John, John ends his letter by saying that he wants to continue the conversation in person.
Although I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink; instead I hope to come to you and talk with you face to face. (2 John 12).
Perhaps he realizes that whatever else he has to communicate could be misunderstood if presented in the impersonal medium of writing a letter. This gives us a valuable insight about sensitive communications. Some things are better said in person, even if distance makes it difficult to see one another face to face.
In twenty-first-century workplaces we find even more complex challenges to personal communication. Remote communication choices today include video conferencing, telephone, texting, letter, e-mail, social media and many other variations. In our busyness, it’s easy to default to the most convenient, unobtrusive methods like email, texting and instant messaging; these can seem the most efficient.
However, effective communication requires matching the medium to the nature of the message. E-mail might be the most effective medium for placing an order, for example, but probably not for communicating a performance review.
The more complicated or emotionally challenging the message, the more immediate and personal the medium needs to be. So before you send your next text or email, consider the following.
1. The complexity of the message.
Complexity increases the chances of misunderstanding. If you’ve already gone back and forth over email or instant message for repeated clarification, perhaps it’s time to pick up the phone.
Pat Gelsinger, former senior vice president at Intel Corporation, says,
I have a personal rule. If I go back and forth with somebody in email more than four or five times on the same topic, I stop. No more. We get on the phone, or we get together face to face.
I have learned that if you don’t resolve something quickly, by the time you get together one of you is mad at the other person. You think they are incompetent since they could not understand the most straightforward thing that you were describing. But it is because of the medium, and it is important to account for this.
2. Is the message potentially emotionally challenging?
Decisions requiring debate and explanation, assessments of another’s work (particularly if something could be read as criticism) and controversial topics are better discussed in a setting where all parties can read facial expression, tone, emotion, sarcasm, sincerity, etc.
The Intern, a comedy coming out in theatres this September, features Anne Hathaway as a high-powered executive and Robert De Niro as her 70-year old intern. In one scene, the trailer takes a humorous jab at the communication skills of millennials. (Note: Trailer is not suitable for children.)
“How long can a woman be mad at you?” Adam DeVine asks De Niro, as an angry love interest/co-worker storms past him. “I assume you’ve talked to her, apologized?” De Niro asks, obviously expecting a “yes.”
“I emailed her. In the subject line I wrote, ‘I’m Sorry’ with a ton of Os so it was like, ‘I’m soooorry’ with a sad emoticon,” the DeVine explains cluelessly. DeNiro’s pitying look says everything.
While the rules of dating don’t necessarily apply in the workplace, the rules of good communication do. Sometimes exclamation points and emoticons just won’t don’t the job! :/
3. Are you trying to resolve a conflict?
Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23-24
Although Jesus was speaking about conflict with “another member of the church” (Matt. 18:15), his method is a remarkable precursor to what is now recognized as best practice in the workplace. Even in the finest workplaces, conflicts arise. When they do, the only effective resolution is for those in conflict to engage each other directly, not to complain to others. Rather than play out a personal conflict in front of an audience, get with the person privately.
In the age of electronic communication, Jesus’ approach is more important than ever. All it takes is a name or two in the “cc:” line or one press of the “reply all” button to turn a simple disagreement into an office feud. Even though two people could keep an email chain to themselves, the possibilities for misunderstanding are multiplied when an impersonal medium such as e-mail is used.
It might be best to take Jesus’ advice literally, “Go and be reconciled” (Matt. 5:24).
Communicating Truth and Love
The wrong medium for a particular communication can easily lead to misunderstanding, which is failure to transmit the truth. And the wrong medium can also get in the way of showing love. So choosing the right medium for communication is an essential aspect of communicating truth and showing love to people with whom we work. We need to communicate with respect and compassion, even in difficult conversations, and especially when we communicate with people we don’t like very much. Sometimes this means meeting face to face, or selecting a more personal mode of communication, even if it is inconvenient or uncomfortable.
How do you decide how you’ll communicate?
This article contains excerpts from the Theology of Work Bible Commentary. Read more: